The Frozen Chicken & Business Plan Problem

“This year we need an extra 10 percent from everybody” Quote from lots of leaders everywhere

I was about 13 or 14 years old when I swung the frozen chicken through the glass in our front door. It wasn’t very bright. My mother’s immediate reaction was a slightly incredulous “Why on earth would you do that?”

I’ll tell you why.

At about that age I’d started playing rugby and boys start toughening up a little bit. So you test yourself. So whenever my mother did the shopping I’d like to carry a ridiculous amount of shopping into the house for her at one time. Both hands laden with more shopping than she thought I could carry. Showing off.

This time I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew and wasn’t sure I could make our kitchen without resting (a self imposed target against which failure could not be tolerated). As I reached the house I saw the door had blown shut, but I assumed it was still ajar. I swung the shopping at the door and the frozen chicken in the front bag met glass. It didn’t go well.

My mother’s frustration was that I’d done something without thinking. The truth is you don’t think well when you are wholly focused on a single goal to the exclusion of other things and have exceeded your capacity or capability.

Welcome to the annual business planning process where organisations attempt to create an exceptional level of focus and maximise capacity. Welcome to the annual frozen chicken meets glass door bonanza.

So as you dive into that process this year please keep the following in mind

– You don’t drive your car at the limit all the time as you know it would break down. Don’t plan to drive your people to the limit. If they are your most important asset stop treating them like disposable razors or Bic pens
– If you are frustrated that your business hasn’t made the right choices this year, then try making sure you protect the time that people need to make good choices. Don’t be afraid of white space in that plan. It’s not your enemy
– Don’t ask for an extra 10 percent unless you know where it can come from and can articulate that to people. Work harder is rarely the option if you really want them to work smarter
– Look back at what happened this year and the percentage of work that wasn’t on the plan at the start of it. That might be the wrong work (‘I fancy doing that’) or it might be the right choice (‘Things have changed’). Guess what…the same thing will happen this year so leave capacity to think and react.

I’m aware that you probably can’t go and tell your senior team they ‘need to think about frozen chicken because Dave said’ so try Googling the following and then have a chat…

– functional fixedness
– the planning fallacy
– cognitive overload

And read the chapter on stretch goals in Execution by Larry Bossidy which articulates how to plan business improvement.

Because wouldn’t it be powerful if this year you had plans everyone in the business thought you could achieve AND the capacity to react during the year.

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